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IWA 2016: “Europe’s SHOT Show”

Every January, the internet explodes with posts about SHOT Show – who’s going, what’s new, industry talk, and the waves of photos snapped of all kinds of new gear. Everyone in the various gun tribes and forums seems to be tuned in to SHOT.

But mention “IWA” and generally you’ll hear… crickets. Or the common response: “What’s IWA?”

It’s fair to call it the SHOT Show of Europe. But it’s got a character all of its own, reflecting the interesting results of the rest of the world’s firearm laws, companies, and cultures. It is held each March in the quaint city of Nuremberg, Germany. Rich in culture, with cobblestone streets, ornate churches and stone bridges built hundreds of years before the founding of the USA, Nuremberg has become the temporary hub since 1973 for the world’s arms merchants to display their newest kit.

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Around 42,000 visitors passed through the gates this year, including RECOIL’s own Sauerbraten-swilling reporter/photographers.

To an American familiar with the annual Las Vegas gun-industry gathering, there’s a lot of similarities. Well-known European companies such as Glock, Heckler Koch, Schmidt & Bender, and Aimpoint have booths (called “stands” in the local parlance) just like they do SHOT. Mixed in with these names, you’ll also find large, well-established gun and accessory companies unfamiliar to most Western firearm enthusiasts. Walking the aisles of the Messe (trade show hall), a Babel-like din of German, English, Italian, Eastern European/Russian languages mash up, all trying to communicate with each other to do business in the shooting trade. Because it’s Europe and many countries have vastly different cultures and gun laws, you might find rich hunting wear appropriate for a Downton Abbey-esque fox hunt in one booth, lederhosen in another, and modern tactical kit from non-US brands like Tasmanian Tiger elsewhere still.

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On the Messe at IWA 2016

Ornate and expensive birding shotguns covered with engraving for the classy crowd sit beside cash-and-carry state of the art silencers from Scandinavian countries not inconvenienced by US-style NFA registration.

And there are tons of booths dedicated to airsoft and advanced pellet guns for those counties that want the shooting sports but have heavy-handed governments forbidding civilian firearm ownership.

Short barreled rifles may be taxed and restricted in the States: but some other counties simply shrug unconcernedly at the thought of putting a stock on a pistol and they are displayed everywhere throughout the show. Heckler and Koch, working their home-field advantage, showed off the new SP5k (basically a reincarnation of the highly sought after SP89 MP5-like pistol), as well as some new 5.56mm MR series carbines. Highly anticipated stuff in the States, but Germany got shown it first here at IWA.
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Not everyone announces their new products at SHOT, or even brings their game as heavy as they do at IWA. Scope maker Schmidt & Bender had an absolutely humongous TV in a booth many times larger than their SHOT Show one, even incorporating an area for customers to try the scopes at long distance, utilizing the windows in the exhibit hall. And parked front and center were some very interesting prototype digital-enhanced, Bluetooth PM optics.

Didn’t see those at SHOT.

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CZ had one of the biggest coming-out parties of the show with their new Shadow 2 pistol, a really well done competition handgun that comes in a large number of user-customized variants and colors.

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Companies that might be viewed as solidly in the old world hunting lane like JP SAUER & Sohn certainly had many traditional rifles engraved approaching fine art… but displayed with an unusual silencer and a takedown violin case that perfectly illustrates the cool mashup that is IWA and the world gun culture outside of America.

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It’s interesting to see which of the U.S. industry folks make the flight across the pond and their presence at the show: big names like Ruger might have a small booth manned with their international sales team. Smith & Wesson rolled in with a new booth and showed a new revolver made specifically for the European market – and not released in the states. (S&W collectors may officially geek out now.)

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Larger distributors like Brownells that know how to navigate the export and ITAR laws show here, as do boutique names like Rainier Arms, bringing high speed tactical gear that’s otherwise unrepresented outside the U.S.

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And if nothing else, it’s entertaining to see American CEOs and key players struggle through language gaps in the polyglottal crowd and navigating the unfamiliar German subways after a week of living on bratwurst and potent beer.

The world gun culture finds a lot of common ground at IWA, which winds up just as fun as discovering it’s differences.

See IWA.info for the scoop on attending or exhibiting.


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